Please note: after I had written this post, a reader kindly pointed out that I had got the feast day all wrong: the feast day in question is (was) The Immaculate Conception, whereas I wrote of the Annunciation (which is celebrated in March). And to think I was raised a catholic ! Shame on me … but not on my feelings !
Today, December 8th, is a public holiday in Italy and a holy feast day for practising catholics all over the world.
It is the day of the Annunciation, of the Archangel Gabriel visiting Mary and informing her that she has been chosen amongst all young women to bear the son of God. Traditionally in Italy, until the advent of commercial impositions that herald the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ as early as November, today marks the time when Christmas festivities and decorations could formally begin.
This, by Fra Angelico, is probably one of the most famous paintings of the Annunciation . I love the array of colours on the archangel’s wings and the look of serenity on Mary’s face. It is all somewhat hush hush, alluding to respect and dignity.
In this Annunciation, instead, by Lorenzo Lotto, the news comes with a bit more oomph and drama, frightens the cat and sort of unnerves Mary.
I love both paintings. And, looking back to how I felt upon the discovery of my two pregnancies, I find that alternating undulations of serenity and alarm did indeed course through my emotions at the time. The bearing of a new life is definitely a miracle, even though we ordinary mothers need to be impregnated by mere biological means.
Why all this talk of pregnancy and motherhood? Well, I was looking through photos of food that I had prepared this year and came across the recipe for today. More than the recipe, I remember the sheer joy of making it for my son and his friends. My son left to live in Milan earlier this year and the tug at my mother’s heart could have escaped no one – I cried for days and developed an unsightly pimple on my lower cheek which corresponds to the Chinese Medicine point of the lungs, which in turn refers to the emotion of grief. It was indeed a form of grief for me, even though I was really happy for him and his new job. I am so glad that society has started talking about the empty nest syndrome because I am convinced that just as there are biological, endocrinologically caused upsets in behaviour during adolescence, there must surely be a ‘reason’ other than co-dependency for a mother’s upset when her children ‘naturally’ leave home? “Partir, c’est un peu mourir”, say the French – going away, leaving, is a little bit like dying. So maybe, when our children leave we are reminded of our own mortality? of time passing so quickly? I do know mothers who are more than happy when their children leave home, so it is not the same for everyone. And happy ‘departures’ are a very healthy thing. All I know is that I am so glad to live in an age where telephones and the internet exist.
End of musing for today, and on with the recipe !
Favourite son came down from Milan for a brief visit last June and a dinner with his mates was hastily organised. It’s always lovely when the house fills up with youthful energy and loud conversation and laughter and joking. Said son (actually he is my only son) drove down with three other ‘passengers’ from Milan (the Milanese girlfriend of one his best friends, plus two of her friends) so it was imperative that I make a good ‘Roman’ impression for the meal. Those who know me culinarily know that I am a FFF, a fried-food-fanatic and so of course I included courgette/zucchini blossoms fried in batter, stuffed with mozarella and anchovy, and other fried foods I can’t recall just now.
The one I do remember is a fried starter/appetizer known as ‘panzerotto alla romana’, ‘panzerotti’ being the plural term. What I love about the panzerotti is that the dough is incredibly easy to make and you can stuff it basically with whatever you like. I, however, did the traditional thing which is parma ham and cheese.
The young ‘uns came, sat down, had drinks, and we all enjoyed a really nice dinner together, with much gratifying head-nodding from them over my choice of menu. And then they were off, in a tearing hurry, happy and excited, as is the wont of young people who want to hit town and do whatever young people like to do.
As I contemplated the ‘remains’ of the dinner … I consoled myself by remembering that cooking for others really does make me happy. Cleaning up afterwards, less so … but there you are.
And before long it dawned on me that I had not had the time to fry the panzerotti ! What was I to do? A sensible person would have placed them safely in the fridge. I? You guesesed it, yes, after cleaning up, I fried them at 1 a.m. ! I knew that favourite son gets really hungry when he comes home after a night out and so they wouldn’t be wasted. I tasted one myself and heartily approved. His friends ate them at room temperature the next day… wolfed them down. So, all turned out well in the frying world.
Panzerotti are great finger foods for parties. They can be prepared earlier on and frozen. Take them out of the freezer about 10 minutes before deep frying.
For the dough:
Flour – 300g
Egg yolks – 2
Water – 100ml
For the stuffing:
Parma ham – 75g, thickly sliced and then cubed
Gruyère cheese – 125g, cubed
Parmesan – 1 tablespoon
Groundnut oil or olive oil for frying.
Place the sifted flour, 2 egg yolks, butter and water in the processor. A pinch of salt too.
Process the ingredients until a dough is formed …Shape the dough into a ball, cover with clingfilm and let it rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge. It will take another half an hour or so, depending on room temperatures, for the dough to be ready to roll out. So take that into consideration too.
That’s the parmesan sliced and cubed.
That’s the gruyèrer cheese cubed. Cheddar will do if you can’t get gruyère.
The grated parmesan. Time to mix things up a bit!
Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and add one whole egg.
Combine all the ingredients and add some salt and pepper.
Cut up the ball of dough into four parts and roll them out.
Make sure your surface is well floured.
This ‘mess’ is what I managed at that ungodly hour in the middle of the night. It actually didn’t matter although I am sure that more preciseness is always a boon. Plop a spoonful of the stuffing onto one side of the rolled out dough.
The mess in all its glory! Coyly cover the stuffing by drawing the other side of the dough to cover it.
Use a cutter to shape the panzerotti roughly into a half moon shape.
This is the result of my exertions. Not too pleasing on the eye, let’s admit it. But … tough: we do what we can do. And this was the best I could do.
Deep fry the panzerotti, a few at a time, in plenty of peanut/groundnut oil or olive oil, until crisp.
Sprinkle a little bit of salt over them … “Il fritto vuole il sale” is the Italian expression for “fried food wants its salt”.
That’s the one I had. Jolly good it was too. Yawn. A glass of water. Brush my teeth. Go to bed. Have to make these again soon …. Yawn. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
And 36 hours later they were off again: four of the five below. From Frascati all the way to Milan in a tiny Cinquecento. Buon viaggio !